Not even cancer kept these DR volunteers from caring for kids

HOUSTON—Joe Dufner and Doyle Bosley leave little room for excuses.

Among the 115 disaster relief volunteers from across the country who entertained, fed, walked, cradled, changed and loved on 136 preschool children during the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention June 9-12 in Houston, Dufner and Bosley had the best reasons not to be there.

Like their peers, their days began before convention staff and messengers arrived and ended after everyone had left for the night. But nothing would deter Texans Dufner and Bosley from their commitments.

Not long hours, demanding schedules or stinky diapers. Not even cancer.

The men and their fellow DR yellow shirts, many of them long past child-rearing years, worked at the convention as a facet of their childcare ministry, usually done in the field following disasters. Crying toddlers are no strangers to these folks.

“As long as I can and as long as they’ll have me I’ll be here,” said Bosley, 69, a leukemia patient who’s fought his disease since 2006.

When Dufner, 72, wasn’t working security at the convention’s childcare unit, he was driving to meet with doctors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDA) in preparation for surgery at the end of that week. He was diagnosed last year with Merkle cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer. Surgery in October treated the initial outbreak but a recent follow-up exam found the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.

The news was disconcerting, he said, not because the cancer had returned but the upcoming pre-operative appointments conflicted with the commitments he and his wife Betty had made for the convention.

“My priority was that I made a commitment to take care of children and I’m going to take care of the children,” he said.

The bi-vocational pastor from Forest Branch Baptist Church in Livingston said the setback would not keep him from fulfilling his obligation. With the SBC annual meeting and the world-renowned cancer treatment center both in downtown Houston, Dufner figured he would simply split his time between the two facilities.

After a long appointment at MDA the Tuesday of the convention, Dufner returned to the George R. Brown (GRB) Convention Center to finish his shift with the children. The next morning he shared his story with the TEXAN before leaving for another appointment. At the close of his shift at the GRB that evening, Dufner and his wife became the new directors of the STBC DR childcare unit following the retirement of Carma Hackett.

Two days later, Dufner had surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes.

Bosley’s ongoing battle with cancer has taken its toll on his kidneys and a severe case of plantar fasciitis keeps him off his feet and on a motorized scooter. He can’t chase the older children (childcare at the convention and during disaster responses is for children up to 5 years old) but he can sit at a table and play with a toddler.

It was one such encounter that made a significant impression on an 18-month-old child and his foster parents.

“I was supposed to pull the trailer and be free. I didn’t retire to work childcare,” Bosley said of his trip to Lubbock in 2009 for the SBTC annual meeting.

But finding little else to do with his free time, Bosley sat through the childcare training session (He was already certified in other areas of DR ministry). Dufner was also in attendance that day—just another observer passing the time and hoping to be useful.

When it came time to get to work both men reported to Hackett, donning aprons and a willing spirit.

When Hackett stopped by Bosley’s room to check on the children she spotted an 18-month-old boy standing at a table playing with a car. Looking past the toddler she saw Bosley, on the floor, rolling a second car, keeping the boy happily engaged.

It was an unremarkable situation except for the fact that the child had been severely abused as a baby and men terrified him. In the short time they had been together the toddler developed a trust in Bosley alone. He would not leave when called to eat supper, instead demanding Bosley help him with his meal.

The child’s foster parents (who later adopted him) tearfully recalled to Hackett that each day of the convention their son could not wait to get to the meeting to see “Papa Do.”

Dufner became “Papa Joe” to his charges and the name stuck.

The men have served at disaster sites, SBTC conventions, and SBC conventions. At the annual meetings they delight in seeing children they cared for the previous year.

Dufner said, “When you go somewhere and a child runs up to you and calls you by name, you know you’ve succeeded.”

Dufner and Bosley are not the only volunteers facing difficult health issues. Most volunteers sport a “crown of glory” (Proverbs 16:31) and endure health troubles that come with age. Bosley’s wife Patricia can no longer work directly with the children so she switched to registration, allowing her to continue volunteering and being nearby.

Dufner said he would like to see younger adults volunteer with SBTC DR childcare. Participation from a younger generation would only strengthen the ranks of the ministry. On average, about 10 percent of the DR volunteers respond when called, necessitating a pool of at least 200 trained workers to staff a convention or disaster.

SBTC DR childcare only has a pool of 56 trained volunteers from which to draw when needs arise.

“We have people say ‘I’m too old. I can’t walk. I can’t witness,’” Dufner said.

But speaking as the soon-to-be childcare director, he added, “In disaster relief there is a job for anybody. There’s always a place for anyone who wants to serve.”

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
Most Read

More state conventions join NAMB in Send Network partnerships

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has, in recent years, developed Send Network agreements with state conventions across North America to enhance partnership and church planting within the SBC. So far, 23 state …

Stay informed on the news that matters most.

Stay connected to quality news affecting the lives of southern baptists in Texas and worldwide. Get Texan news delivered straight to your home and digital device.